Category Archives: DC

The White House and the Rest of Inauguration

So, it seems I couldn’t quite pull of the Inauguration running diary.  The truth is that by the time the cool stuff was happening, it was all so overwhelming that I had a hard time knowing what to write.  I guess I’ll just share my story from the last few days.  Turns out we visited the White House which was pretty wild!  Since my sister and I were second in line to meet this President, the AP got our picture and it is currently in all kinds of papers (Washington Post, something from Taiwan, USA Today, and who knows where else!).

Today (January 21, 2009)

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(Above: My sister and I with the Obamas!)

I’m starting with Obama’s first day in office because it was the most exciting day of the whole thing.  As you may have read, I found out on Friday night that I responded fast enough to an Obama email that I was invited to attend a reception at the White House today.  I did not know exactly what to expect besides it started at 2 and I couldn’t bring a camera.  In my mind, I imagined it to be a short speech from the President along with some light snacks like cheese and crackers.  I could not have been more off.

My sister and I arrived at the White House around 1:15 this afternoon only to find a huge crowd outside.  Apparently, many people heard about the Open House (as this event was called) on the news and thought that it was truly an Open House.  It was not.  You had to be on the list and give them your Social Security number and everything so they could run a check on you before the event.  So, that was chaos.  After about 45 minutes of waiting, they let us in and we walked through security and right into the White House.  The first thing we saw was that they had huge framed pictures from yesterday’s Inauguration up.  Impressive work the White House.  We walked by some rooms (the Vermeil Room – you may remember Vermeil if you are a West Wing fan) and the White House Library.  Then it was upstairs and into the East Room.  The East Room used to be used for all the State Dinners and stuff like that until they added on a bigger room for those.  It has also been used for everything from a first daughter’s high school prom to a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game.  It holds the famous portrait of George Washington (the one Dolly Madison saved from a burning White House in 1812).  We were there for awhile learning fascinating facts about this room until we could move on for our surprise.

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(Above: My Official White House Cookie.  It was delicious.)

The surprise was that the President and the First Lady were there waiting to greet everyone who came (about 100ish people).  My sister and I were second in line.  So, we walked through the Green Room (which I think might have been cool) and into the Blue Room where the Obamas were waiting.  This was totally overwhelming.  I can’t tell you anything about the Blue Room.  I just know my heart was racing and they were RIGHT there.  So, Britt and I walked up and they started asking us some questions and we introduced ourselves.  The conversation basically entailed us saying that we lived in DC, that our parents live in Vermont and run an inn, and that we both work in think tanks (Britt at Mathematica and me at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research).  Barack said something like, “Keep doing that work and make sure to send it to my staff!”  and I think I responded with we’re working hard on these issues everyday.  Most of the time, I was trying to ignore the fact that there were like 50 cameras in the room and trying not to do something dumb.  It’s funny, I had thought of like 2 key sentences I could use in a situation like this, but they went out the window fast because, there I was in the White House, with the Obamas who were towering over me (they are so tall), and what seemed like the entire White House press core.  So, it was very cool, but it was a crazy moment!   Very fast, very awesome, and hard to keep your cool.

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(Above: Britt and I outside the White House)

So, after that, we left the Blue Room and went through some other room (who knows which one) and into the main entrance way of the White House, where there are some columns, some portraits (there are presidential portraits everywhere in there), and a very cool old piano.  This was also where some White House chefs gave us some White House cookies (see the picture below).  Then, we left by exiting the front door and walking out to Pennsylvania Ave.  I made a guy who was with us take a picture of my sister and I outside with his White House with his iPhone (because, hey, its easy to email!) and we walked out the fence.  This was a cool moment because you leave and people are like, “WHOA, they were in the White House!”  Then a reporter from the AP stopped and asked us some questions, my toes froze, and I walked back to work for a totally unproductive afternoon.    The only thing that would have been cool was to see the Mural Room.  I’ve always been intrigued by it!  Now I just have to do something awesome so I can go back for an actual meeting or something!

Yesterday (January 20, 2009)

dsc00441(Above: The sunrising on the crowds on the Mall; literally dawn on a new day in America)

I woke up at 6:10 and was out the door by 6:30 to make sure I got a spot on the Mall.  I picked up my sister and her friends and we headed for downtown.  There were a few snafus of meeting up, but we still managed to get a spot no problem.  It was crazy though, trying to figure out exactly how to get down there with many of the streets closed off for the parade.  After being directed to 18th Street (from 14th Street), we were on our way with a crowd of people that was almost shoulder to shoulder from I St. straight to the Mall.  We walked on past the Washington Monument just in time to see the Jumbotrons replaying the kickoff concert.  It was great to start the day with Bruce Springsteen singing “The Rising.”  We pushed forward as far as we could and ended up at 12th Street in front of the American History Museum, which is fitting really.  The concert replay was key since it was like 20 degrees out and it was great to be able to dance to songs like “Shout” to keep warm.  Also, being shoulder to shoulder with people helped on that front.

dsc00506(Above: My view of the Oath of Office)

After the concert replay ended, they started live coverage and you could see everyone make their entrance.  This was when I realized that DC is totally a nerdy city.  It’s amazing how many Congresspeople the crowd knew!  There were huge cheers for the big Dems (the Clintons, the Gores, Ted Kennedy) and the video of the approaching Obama motorcade.  There were huge boos for Bush and Cheney along with choruses of “Nanana nana hey hey goodbye” and one guy humming the Darth Vader evil Stars Wars music.   People went nuts cheering Obama everytime they showed him or any member of his family, as they were entering, as he took the Oath of Office, as he started and finished his Inaugural Address.  All in all, it was a lovely day.  It was absolutely surreal to be somewhere where all you could see in any direction was more people.  I thought the crowds were easier to deal with than expected and us common folk on the back of the Mall got in and out, relatively easily (some of the VIP’s up front never made it in!!!).  I think my favorite parts of the day were chanting loudly with the crowd and listening to the speech.  I loved what he had to say and loved even more that Bush and Cheney had to sit there and listen to it.  It was amazing to be there and see everything from the vendors selling shirts to the people crying and singing and dancing, to the actual pomp and circumstance.  I just feel like I could never capture it in words.  If only I could post my iPhoto slideshow…

Monday (January 19, 2009)

I slept and rested up for Tuesday.  Key decision.

Sunday (January 18, 2009)

On Sunday, I ventured down to the kickoff concert, which featured a crazy group of stars (Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, U2, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Shakira, Stevie Wonder, John Legend, James Taylor, Garth Brooks, Harold or Kumar – I never know which one he was, Sheryl Crow, will.i.am, Steve Carrell, Tom Hanks, Tiger Woods, and lots of others).  My boss did an awesome job of tracking down tickets for everyone to something and I got concert tickets.  So, I managed to get up pretty close (the front edge of the reflecting pool) for the concert.  This area was cool because you could see the crowds and stuff, but it was a little tricky to see the actual stage thanks to the way they built the VIP bleachers.  But, my friend Shamus and I wandered around a bit and met one of the actors from The Wire, which made Shamus’ day since he is a superfan.  I didn’t recognize him until he also mentioned he had been on Heroes.  The lesson as always, I need to watch The Wire.  So, we were in this section for the first portion of the concert (inlcuding Springsteen doing “The Rising”) and I got some hot chocolate, some commemorative pins for my parents, and just enjoyed the scene while taking pictures like crazy.  After awhile, Shamus and I took a walk to warm up and we figured out a way to get into the VIP bleachers, so we put our plan into action and managed to get in, meaning we were about 100 yards from the stage.  We made it up there just in time to see Samuel L. Jackson introduce U2.  We also saw Obama speak from there and Bruce and Pete Seeger doing “This Land is Our Land.”  It was super fun being that close and bopping around.

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(Above: The view of the Mall from the concert).

The concert was also the first time I realized how insane the crowds were in DC.  There were lines to get in practically circling the Mall.  It took halfway back to my house (which is probably somewhere between 1.5-2 miles from the Mall) for the crowds to thin out.  But everyone was pleasant and happy and in the mood to celebrate, which I’d say was a theme for the weekend.

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(Above: Springsteen, Seeger, and a choir.  Love that Bruce!)

I wish I could post all of my pictures because are so many awesome ones, but I will leave you with my Obama Inaugural collage.

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Filed under DC, Politics

In Honor of Tourist Season: Notes on Women and Museums

Anyone who lives in DC will tell you that June and July can be an interesting time in the city as it gets packed with tourists, even the kind of tourists who are all wearing matching lime green Disney World t-shirts.  Sure, they can clog up the Metro and make it impossible to quietly enjoy the Smithsonian for awhile, but it is certainly true that DC is a prime destination for people coming to learn a little more about American history, culture, and politics.  As such, many feminists have long hoped for a museum that would celebrate Women’s History as part of American history and many have been working for years trying to build the National Women’s History Museum.  The museum has a pretty cool website that does an excellent job highlighting women’s roles in American history, but to date, there is not a physical museum.  The group recently spent $100,000 trying to submit a bid for an empty Smithsonian building, was named as a finalist, and then received word that review committee decided to hold off on putting anything in that space.  It would have been a great space as it is right on the Mall and it was disappointing because so much time and effort had been put into the bid.  On the bright side, the group seems to have found a second location that might be better and they are trying to work with Congress to secure the space.  I’m really hoping that they have some success with that effort for a couple of reasons.

1) The National Museum of American History (part of the Smithsonian) is currently being renovated.  Prior to the renovations, I spent a very extensive day there checking out the museum and reading almost every plaque (I love history museums).  Much to my disappointment, women were not all that well represented.  Sure, there was the First Ladies exhibit, but mostly that focused on their inauguration dresses or other fashion choices.  Some popular fictional characters, like Carrie Bradshaw, got a nod as well.  But, the museum seemed to lack an overall sense of women’s place in American history.  At the time I thought that might have been due to the fast approaching renovations, but recently I have heard that the renovated museum eliminated a women’s history exhibit (supposedly there was not enough room) and abandoned their plan to show the First Ladies as more than women in dresses.  Meanwhile, I’m sure the museum has perserved its incredibly large and detailed exhibit on American military history.  Just what we need, more guns, less focus on actual people.

2) It’s also worth noting that other Smithsonian museums, notably the National Gallery also have a bad track record when it comes to including women.  According to Ms. Magazine, 98 percent of the artists displayed in the National Gallery are men.  Yes, you read that right 98 percent!   Unreal!  At the National Portrait Gallery, you can visit the Hall of Presidents and see portraits of 42 men (George W. isn’t there yet) and not a single exhibit on women in American history.  Sure there are some women scattered about, but they are definitely underrepresented, partially because women were excluded from historical records for so long and because they have been left out of leadership positions.

3) I have actually seen some other museums in the area do an excellent job of incorporating women, most notably, the spy museum.  Throughout that museum, women are remarkably well-integrated and I believe the museum gives you the impression that just as many women are spies as men (which makes sense if you think about it!).  I love the Spy Museum because it is super fun, but it is also interesting learning about the important role women have played in espionage and it’s pretty cool to see what spy gadgets were designed especially for women.

Ultimately, then I am saddened that the Smithsonian has been unable to do a better job of incorporating women into it’s vast collection of information on American culture, history, and politics.  It’s disappointing that for the most part, women are only shown as trophy wives (First Ladies in dresses), pop culture characters, painted nudes on the walls of the National Gallery, and stereotypical depictions of women as housewives beginning with the Puritans and continuing right on through most of our history.  I’m glad that the National Women’s History Museum is putting pressure on the Smithsonian to change that and I hope that they will have great success in the near future!

If you want to write Congress to help make this happen, go here.

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Filed under DC, Feminist Stuff, Politics, Women's Studies